With loads of family, friends, teammates and coaches on hand, Devin McCourty handled his retirement ceremony speech as flawlessly as he did the entirety of his 13-year career in New England. Unfortunately, replacing him doesn't figure to be nearly as easy.
McCourty's on-field contributions were significant. He was a steady presence who was always in position and, just as importantly, made sure every other member of the defense was as well. He roamed center field on the back end of the secondary like Mike Trout, rarely getting caught out of position or leaving uncovered receivers to benefit from coverage breakdowns. His strengths went beyond his physical play. He was quite simply a coach on the field, and often worked with teammates on the fly to adjust to various problems that arose each week.
But where Bill Belichick will miss him most is as a leader and true voice inside the organization.
"It is a rare group of players who win games at a historic rate, exude team culture, lead, win awards, and win championships, and then there is Devin McCourty," Belichick said in his statement following McCourty's retirement. "Devin did all of those things as a player and more. But, what I think of first when I think of Devin is the type of man he is, his character, his values and how high he raised the bar for spreading goodness and justice in the community.
"For 13 years, Devin made everyone in our organization feel better and be better because of who he is – a pillar of professionalism, unselfishness, work ethic, preparation, intelligence and performance. I am excited to see him bring those same traits to his next chapter and brighten the lives of even more people."
Belichick's words were echoed several times during Tuesday's ceremony. The coach himself repeated them. Robert Kraft offered variations as well. Devin's twin brother Jason, who spent three seasons sharing a locker room in Foxborough, similarly spoke not of his brother's physical abilities but of his mental approach.
The two appeared on the "Pats From the Past" podcast shortly after the ceremony and talked about their bond and life in football together. Jason explained how Devin would often take over positional meetings, and he was so respected that few would offer any rebuttals. He joked how that changed once he arrived, but listening to the two talk about the preparation and commitment that went into their play further illustrated just how difficult he will be to replace.
There are veterans around the league who fill similar roles for their teams on the field. Cincinnati's Jessie Bates just signed a big contract with the Falcons. Jordan Poyer decided to stay in Buffalo, and Harrison Smith did likewise in Minnesota. Veteran Taylor Rapp remains unsigned, and the Patriots reportedly met with the former Ram last week. They even brought back the versatile Jalen Mills, who has plenty of safety experience to fall back on.
All are talented players and some have the versatility to fulfill the roles McCourty did in New England. But it's the intangible qualities that will be impossible to replicate, and even McCourty wasn't able to identify when he understood how his off-field role would evolve.
Following his recent retirement, Devin McCourty returned to Foxboro on Tuesday, March 21, 2023, cand was honored during a press conference and ceremony at the Patriots Hall of Fame. A 12-time team captain during his 13-year NFL career, McCourty helped the Patriots win three Super Bowl championships.
On the podcast, McCourty spoke of leaning on veterans Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo when he first arrived. He explained how the pair ran the defense for years, and when they were gone he looked around and realized more would be expected of him.
The one player he pointed toward was Kyle Dugger, and McCourty said he felt the young safety was capable of filling more of a leadership role and encouraged him to have more of a voice. But that takes time, and expecting anyone to fill the role as effectively as McCourty did is unrealistic.
Later in Tom Brady's Patriots career he famously said that he felt his mental preparation allowed him to feel as if he had all the answers to the tests heading into the games. The Patriots have now lost their defensive version of Brady and replacing him will be no easy task.
Pats from the Past Podcast
The 'Pats from the Past' podcast features in-depth conversations with some of the greatest Patriots players in franchise history. Hosted by Sr. Executive Producer Matt Smith, and Patriots.com's Paul Perillo, who combined have nearly forty years of experience in the organization to expertly tap into the players and their unique insights.
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